NP: June 16, 1864 New York Herald Tribune: The Campaign



in June 1864

Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Ken Perdue.


The meaning of Grant’s movement is the isolation of Richmond. It has been common to represent since the beginning of this campaign that Grant desired only the destruction of Lee’s army; and, on the other hand, to represent that his sole object was the possession of Richmond. Neither statement involved the whole truth. It must be remembered that Lee’s army exists for the defense of the Rebel Capital; and if Grant had desired only to defeat Lee, the necessities which his energetic operations have imposed upon the Rebel leader brought both armies into near relations to Richmond. When Grant crossed the North Anna, he forced Lee to decide between holding the Virginia Central Railroad with its stations, Gordonsville and Charlottesville, and holding Richmond. Compelled partly by political considerations, Lee chose the latter; and since the moment of his determination the campaign of Gen. Grant has comprehended two objects, neither inseparable from the other, because the army of Lee became practically the garrison of Richmond. The question remaining, and which the present movement goes far to solve, was how long Lee could defend his capital in the field, and how soon he should be driven inside of its earthworks. And that is a question which the presence of Gen. Grant south of the James must bring, sooner or later, to an issue.

Let us clear away captious objections at the outset by admitting that Gen. Grant would gladly have forced the line north of the Chickahominy on the battle of Friday, June 3. So would he gladly have annihilated Lee in the Wilderness, at Spottsylvania, on the South Anna. So would he gladly have marched from Culpeper into Richmond without a shot; but neither was to be, and it is the test and superb assurance of Grant’s great generalship that where he could not break the strength which withstood his march he has bent it, and has shaped the course of the campaign by his own will from the moment he moved over the Rapidan down to this present passage of the James. As fertile in resource as he was unshaken in purpose, he has successively turned his enemy’s flank by the repetition of a strategy which becomes grand in its monotonous persistence. Never turning away from the Rebel front till he became satisfied by the trial of battle that it was better to annul it by strategy than to destroy it by force, with admirable prudence he throws himself at last across the James, instead of dashing against the Chickahominy line, or instead of waiting till a third of his army had been lost by disease in those fatal swamps. And so long as Lee chooses to maintain the defense of Richmond, Gen. Grant does as truly maintain his grasp on the Rebel army by a strategic move south of the Capital as by confronting it on the Peninsula.

This movement was foreseen and provided for from the outset. It is safe to state now — what constitutes the complete defense of Gen. Butler against all criticisms on his campaign — that he was ordered to seize some point on the south bank of the James, as near as might be to Richmond, and to hold it for a new base of supplies for the Army of the Potomac. That is, Gen. Grant saw clearly he might need such a base, and the existing necessity for it is a vindication, if any were needed, of the policy which sent the expedition under Gen. Butler to Bermuda Hundred, and equally a justification of the prudent resolve to which that commander adhered, that no temptation should lead him to imperil the absolute certainty of his hold on the line he had occupied and intrenched. Not to have retreated from Fort Darling when he did would have been virtually a violation of his orders and a disappointment of the just expectations of Gen. Grant.

Like all other movements in this campaign, Gen. Grant has accomplished the transfer of his army from the north of the Chickahominy to the south of the James with admirable precision and celerity. During last week the enormous wagon train, which has accompanied the march from the Rapidan, was sent down the Peninsula. With a water base on the James, there was no longer any need for the greater part of it; and its departure was a relief from one of the principal embarrassments which attended a flank march in the face of a hitherto enterprising and dangerous enemy. But the two armies lay so close to each other on the Cold Harbor line that it is still a marvel how Gen. Grant could have withdrawn his forces undiscovered, and equally a marvel that Lee should have made no effort whatever to interrupt the movement. A partial explanation of the latter is supplied by the direction of Grant’s march, for, instead of seeking to force a perilous passage high up on the Chickahominy, with almost the certainty of obstinate opposition, and probably of a general engagement, Gen. Grant moved in two columns, crossing at Long Bridge and at Jones Bridge, seven and twelve miles below Bottom Bridge. At those points, and on the roads which lead south to the James, he was so far withdrawn from even the right wing of Lee’s army, that he was scarcely exposed to a flank movement, in the ordinary sense of the term, and not at all, except by a protracted march that of itself imperiled, if it did not destroy, the chance of Lee’s success. So that whether we regard the conception or the execution of the movement, we cannot but regard both with admiration.

South of the James River the campaign assumes, of course, a totally new aspect. Even were Gen. Grant to cross the main body of his army at Fort Powhatan, as Mr. Stanton’s dispatch asserts, the immediate result of its appearance would be the occupation of the Petersburg Railroad, to which Gen. Butler’s lines are now so near that there could scarcely be much opposition to a serious effort by a great army to debouch from them and sit down across the railway. It is equally manifest that the line of the Danville Railroad must speedily be severed, whether by Sheridan’s cavalry crossing the James far to the west and reaching the Appomattox bridge in its circuit, or by the extension of Gen. Grant’s lines of investment on the south of Richmond; and what with the work of Sheridan north of the James, and of Hunter in the valley, there will then remain no avenue of supply to the Rebel capital, or to the army which defends it.

If there be any apprehension of a movement upon Washington, now left uncovered, it is sufficient to say that Lee has no means of taking an army north of the Rappahannock. The Fredericksburg and Virginia Central Railroads are destroyed. The country between the James and the Rapidan is a desert, and the Shenandoah Valley not less thoroughly stripped by the passage of the armies. Lee could only advance in force upon Washington by loading supplies in wagons, and he has neither the wagons, nor the horses, nor the forage to feed the horses, for such an enterprise. As matters stand we regard any serious demonstration upon Washington as utterly unpracticable. Lee has all and more than all he can attend to in the neighborhood of Richmond.1

Note: This newspaper article is used with the permission of  All rights reserved.


  1. New York Herald Tribune, June 16, 1864


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